Sending out Evangelists
Last Sunday night a question was asked in response to comments I made in a sermon to the effect tha we should pray that God would raise up more evangelists and church planters, and that God would help churches release people with gifts of evangelism and encourage them in the task.
The question was along the lines of when will St Mark's send out teams in outreach. I said that we already had a small team (the Gospellers) which had been "going out" before Covid 19 started. You may remember the door knock and film we invited people to called For the Love of God.
There have been some other things as well. Some of the Ministry Teams, especially Mainly Music and Coffee and Chat have had a focus on reaching out to not yet believers.
However good as that me be as a start it doesn't yet measure up to signs of a church committed to evangelism. Any analysis of where we put our efforts and money will make it clear that we are pretty much in maintenance mode.
No doubt there are reasons to explain this. Although not to justify it. Some of us have genuine gifts in evangelism and we should keep on encouraging and supporting them as we can.
But alongside this, indeed undergirding it, is the need for a congregation that really wants to see unbelievers become believers. Such a "really wanting" shows itself in prayer. It shows itself in people becoming educated, informed, full of inderstanding of the gospel. It shows itself in looking out for every person who turns up to church or one of its events to see if they can be drawn to Christ. It shows itself in being present with the body when it meets as a personal declaration that Jesus and his gospel is at the centre of your life. It shows itself in inviting unbelievers to join you at church or in reading the bible with you, or by bringing theme to where they can hear the gospel.
And maybe joining an outreach team.
John Calvin on John 10
And they shall hear my voice.We must observe the way in which the flock of God is gathered. It is, when all have one shepherd, and when his voice alone is heard. These words mean that, when the Church submits to Christ alone, and obeys his commands, and hears his voice and his doctrine, then only is it in a state of good order. Let us therefore remember that we ought always to begin with the Head. Hence also the Prophets, when they describe the restoration of the Church, always join David the king with God; as if they said, that there is no Church where Christ does not reign, and that there is no kingdom of God, but where the honor of shepherd is granted to Christ.
Verse 17. On this account the Father loves me. There is, indeed, another and a higher reason why the Father loves the Son; for it was not in vain that a voice was heard from heaven,
This is my beloved Son, in whom the good-pleasure of God dwells, (Matthew 3:17; 17:5.)
But as he was made man on our account, and as the Father delighted in him, in order that he might reconcile us to himself, we need not wonder if he declares it to be the reason why the Father loves him, that our salvation is dearer to him than his own life. This is a wonderful commendation of the goodness of God to us, and ought justly to arouse our whole souls into rapturous admiration, that not only does God extend to us the love which is due to the only-begotten Son, but he refers it to us as the final cause. And indeed there was no necessity that Christ should take upon him our flesh, in which he was beloved, but that it might be the pledge of the mercy of his Father in redeeming us.
That I may take it again. As the disciples might be deeply grieved on account of what they had heard about the death of Christ, and as their faith might even be greatly shaken, he comforts them by the hope of his resurrection, which would speedily take place; as if he said, that he would not die on the condition of being swallowed up by death, but in order that he might soon rise again as a conqueror. And even at the present day, we ought to contemplate the death of Christ, so as to remember, at the same time, the glory of his resurrection. Thus, we know that he is life, because, in his contest with death, he obtained a splendid victory, and achieved a noble triumph.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3). Jesus’ disciples responded to this man’s inborn blindness by looking for a cause. In their natural thinking the cause must lie somewhere in the past. Much like my devoted Christian friend, who when diagnosed with breast cancer remarked she had always taken care of her diet. Humans are driven to make sense of the world, so nobody questions past cause and future effect. Jesus, who knew the ways of the Father perfectly, did not think this way.
He knew by divine revelation that this man was born blind, like us all (Acts 26:18), in order that he might be healed. Christ uniquely understood the present broken form of the world in terms of its glorious future. When dialoguing with the despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus he spoke to them about the ways of his Father. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Jesus never felt trapped, as we might, by physical, political, economic or social necessities, but lived free in the obedience of faith to follow and enact the heavenly Father’s will. The power of Christ’s death-and-resurrection is that it is a free gift to a lost humanity without any external compulsion (John 10:17-18). This presents an enormous challenge to our living.
In a Christian way of thinking about the world, weakness exists for divine strengthening (2 Cor 12:7-9) and the experience of defeat for victory through faith (1 John 5:4). The Fall was permitted so that through it God would ultimately triumph over all evil; “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). Paul teaches, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18) and “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). To thrive in the Lord our present trials must be seen through the lens of future joy (Heb 12:1-2). Let’s stop asking unfruitful back to front questions and come to Jesus for perfect soul rest (Matt 11:28-30).
Freedom in a Spaghetti Brain World
I thought of calling today's sermon "Freedom in a Spaghetti Brain World". I was looking for a way of describing the whirling confused strands of the fairy floss like whirlpools of modern public discussion especially on social media.
Not only is there an overwhelming supply of news, opinion, ideas, advertising, promotions and debate, but there is clearly no agreed basis or method for discussing. That may be partly because discussion is not really what modern social and other media is about. It is more like broadcasting opinions and information (true of fake). More like a battle, an onslaught meant to drown out others or to shout them into agreeing with you.
Some may say this is overly pessimistic- after all many Christians seek to tell the gospel in the social media arena. And it is good that they do. But anyone who seeks to tell the truth is up against it. Truth is not really a feature of modern life. At least not true truth such as the gospel tells.
Nevertheless the suppression and ignoring of truth is hardly a new thing. Humans have a built in tendency to veer away fro truth - due to the power of the real world ruler - the great Liar.
But their is hope for truth. Truth does exist and can be known. The one true God who has made everything and told us about himself and his world, has made it known.
It is Jesus who tells the truth about humans and God. Jesus seemed concerned that those who believed in him, his opponents in the Sanhedrin and even Pilate should know the truth.
KNowing the crucial true truth doesn't involve long university courses or reading boring books. Jesus said to know the truth all we have to do is to hold to his teaching. Or stay in it. Or live in it. Or keep on living and doing it.
And that tells us something else about truth. God's truth is for living, not for knowing many obscure and clever things. It is practical because it brings us into the life of God himself and helps us live his life in a very confused and truth suppressed world.
Keep reading, marking digesting, doing.
A heart full of water
A heart full of water. So Jesus describes the outcome of an event he promises. Although the heart is not described as full. Rather it produces a flow of water: "rivers of living water". Actually it is not the heart but the inside of a person where the water flows. From their inner being.
One could read this promise as though it describes the source of living water for other people - flowing out from one to another. But Jesus is not thinking that way. He is describing the same source of water for everyone. "Rivers" is a way of describing the ongoing flow of God's life running through and from the believer.
The "water" is the Holy Spirit according to John. Flowing from the inner being of those who come to Jesus to drink. It is a striking image. An image one could more easily associate with Jesus himself. It sounds like the water from the Rock at Mt Horeb (Ex 17). It makes sense of Jesus himself pouring out the Holy Spirit. And although some scholars want to make this passage about the Holy Spirit flowing out from Jesus, it is actually believers that Jesus is talking about.
So what is the point of describing the Spirit in us as a flowing river? Usually of course rivers are flowing. Water that doesn't flow is not usually a river. What is wrong with having a dam, or reservoir, or lake of the Holy Spirit in us? It is quite a different image isn't it.
If we think of the powerful life giving life of God, then a river is a much better image. The Holy Spirit whom Jesus promises is not someone who can be dammed up or kept in reserve. The flow of the Spirit's life parallels the life of God himself.
Indeed the Spirit in believers is the life of God. Just as we can easily think of this image applying to Jesus, so we should think that this is how he wants his life to be seen in us. How he wants his life to be in us.
In whom? In the thirsty. In those who want God in their life. In those who want to share in God's own life.
And they are the ones who can point others to where to get the water. Only from Jesus.